Child poverty: Radical action needed, say experts

Experts say local authorities cannot do what they have always done on child poverty and that bolder action is required

Tes Reporter

Child poverty: Radical action needed, say experts

Child poverty will increase in Scotland if radical action is not taken by local authorities and health boards, according to experts.

The warning was issued ahead of the first National Conference on Local Action to Tackle Child Poverty, taking place today at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), and amid concerns that there is too much expectation on schools to "fix" child poverty.

Councils have been working with the NHS towards the Scottish government's target of eradicating child poverty by 2030.

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Professor John McKendrick, co-director of the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit (SPIRU) at GCU, praised Scotland's 32 local authorities for their work on the plans so far.

However, he warned that a bolder approach is required, saying: "Councils are beginning to realise that if they only do what they have always been doing, things are going to get worse.

"To counter the UK-wide increases in child poverty that are expected over the next few years, we need councils and their partners to make better use of the resources at their disposal.

"Real progress will require a step-change across the country."

Proiessor McKendrick added: "It's such a simple idea but it's transformative because all of a sudden you're giving people access to significant extra resource to which they are already entitled.

"There are other wicked problems that we all need to address. In-work poverty is a national scandal - people who are working but don't earn enough to get by on. That's a scandal, full stop.

"As a country, we need to ensure that a working-life is a poverty-free life. Councils, as significant employers and awarders of contracts have their part to play in eradicating in-work poverty."

SPIRU is currently developing a database to allow councils to share their best ideas and practice online with bodies being urged to work together.

One example – Glasgow City Council's move to automate grants, where if someone applies for one grant, their eligibility for all grants is automatically checked – has already been taken up by other authorities after being widely praised.

Professor Stephen Sinclair, co-director of SPIRU at GCU, added: "We have to change the nature of employment and childcare, improve access to jobs, access to affordable food, access to transport - just getting to places where you can access services or work, is an issue.

"There's a sense of urgency in Scotland. There's an appetite for working together to tackle this, which is distinctive."

Professor Sinclair added: "Given the scale of the ambition to eradicate child poverty by 2030, these action plans, as good as they are, will not be sufficient.

"The step-change is going to require politically ambitious changes if we want to make significant in-roads into tackling child poverty."

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "We are taking a range of actions to tackle child poverty and reach our ambitious statutory targets for reducing child poverty, including making the first payments of the Scottish Child Payment to eligible families with children under six by Christmas 2020.

"Last year, we invested over £1.4 billion in direct support for families on low incomes, including £100 million to mitigate the impacts of UK government welfare cuts, with research showing the impact of the UK Government's welfare cuts will amount to £3.7 billion in Scotland annually by 2020-21."

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